Thursday, November 6, 2008

Parashat Lech L'cha - Hebrews/Jews in Politics

While the most famous parts of this week's Parashah may be the opening verse (12:1
וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל אַבְרָם לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ:
God Said to Abram, Go forth from the land which I will show you), Abram and Sarai becoming Abraham and Sarah, and the Covenant of circumcision, there is another interesting (if less obviously inspirational) undercurrent present, that of politics.
At the end of chapter 12, Abram and Sarai are forced to descend to Egypt because of a famine in Cana'an. Abram tells Sarah to announce that they are brother and sisters so he is not killed, and in the end must explain to Pharaoh when Sarai is taken to the Royal palace.
In chapter 13, Abram negotiates his disengagement from his nephew Lot, as the two have accumulated too much livestock to continue living together comfortably. Abram chooses the plains of Canaan, but Lot, in the first of many ill-fated decisions, chooses the area of Sodom, which at the time was very fine grazing land. This incident leads into the excitement of chapter 14 (which I had never learned until I began participating in the חידון התנך- bible contest in high school). A war breaks out between a coalition of four kings pitted against a coalition of five kings. Abram, a relatively new resident of the land has no reason to get involved in this battle until Lot is taken captive by the group of 4 kings, and Abram decides to take action. He enters the war on the side of the five kings (including the king of Sodom), and sends troops from among the members of his household and his comrades. At the end of the chapter, we see that Abram's strategy worked, and Lot was returned safely. He is praised by Melkitzedek, king of Shalem, along with his allies, but refuses to take part of the spoils that were his entitlement according to ancient custom. Thus, we see in Abram's actions an example that many Jews have attempted to emulate throughout our history; a strong commitment to Jewish values and identity, combined with full immersion in the larger world and society.
These stories of Abram came to mind when I heard the news of some of President-elect Obama's appointment of Rep. Rahm Emanuel this week as his White House Chief of Staff. As I looked into Emanuel's background and history, I saw a similar commitment to dichotomy of Jewish and secular to that held by Abram, but without mixing the two in a way that would remove the integrity of Judaism and America, synagoue and State. Rahm is the son of Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician and member of the Irgun during the 1940s in Palestine/Israel. Both he and his children attend(ed) the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Jewish Day School in Chicago, and he is the member of a modern Orthdox shul there. Emanuel has shown a strong commitment to both Israel and the US. In 1990, he volunteered on an army base in Israrl dueing the height of the Gulf war, and he's been quoted many times since then emphasizing Israel's right to self-defense, and the need to hold the Palestinians to the same standards. However, this commitment to the Jewish state and Jewish life has not prevented Emanuel from serving as a top advisor in the Clinton White House, and a top Democratic congressman for the last 6 years, committed to improving health care access for all.
I would like to add in an anecdote shared with me by my abba from the blog of Rabbi Jason Miller:
I recall a funny story Jack Moline told me about his first experience meeting President Bill Clinton. Jack visited the White House weekly to study Torah with his friend and congregant Rahm Emanuel (left), the Illinois Congressman. Emanuel, then senior advisor to President Clinton, had an office in the West Wing. Jack always went to the White House with Kosher corned beef sandwiches for Emanuel and him to enjoy. He was also always prepared to stand at a moment's notice and greet the President with the traditional Jewish blessing one says upon meeting a head of state. One day during a Moline-Emanuel chavruta session, the President walked into Rahm Emanuel's office to chat about a basketball game when Jack jumped up with a mouth full of corned beef trying to utter the blessing.

That story came to mind the other day when I read an article about Rep. Rahm Emanuel in Newsweek magazine. The article theorized that Emanuel ("Rahmbo") might be the most likely Democratic Party leader to be the one to encourage Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race should Barack Obama continue to be the front runner. Why Emanuel? Because, the article explains, he is close to the Clintons from his years campaining for them and serving in the Clinton White House. And he is close to the Obama campaign as well based on his long standing friendship with Obama's campaign strategist, David Axelrod.

How close is Emanuel with Axelrod? "So close," Newsweek states, "that Axelrod signed the ketuba, a Jewish marriage contract, at Emanuel's wedding, an honor that usually goes to a best friend."
In response to this funny and inspirational story, I would like to end with a few relevant pieces of text to ponder:
ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם שנתן מכבודו \מחכמתו לבשר ודם
Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, who has given from His honor /wisdom to flesh and blood.
---This is the Blessing that Rabbi Moline recited for President Clinton. I pray that that we continue to be inspired by those who lead our nation, and that the incoming administration continue to reflect the values of this b'racha and Rabbi Louis Ginsburg's prayer for Our Country (see post of November 3).

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם שחלק מכבודו \מחכמתו ליראיו
Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, who has given from His honor /wisdom to those who fear Him.
---May we be able to tke pride in those like Rep. Emanuel, who rise to the heights of power and involvement in American society, while continuing to reflect a strong commitment to Jewish living and values in their personal and public lives.

Shabbat Shalom! May we, the Jewish People, the United States and Israel continue to go מחיל לחיל, from strength to strength.

1 comment:

Jonah Rank said...

אמן סלה!

Amen selah!